I’ve missed some very interesting discussions over the past few days, but have an excuse. My long-suffering wife, anticipating her life after retirement, wanted to experience a spring hike in the Rockies. Not needing much encouragement to visit my favorite place on the planet, we decided on a return to the Tonquin Valley. I’ve described the rustic chalet hidden amongst trees in the shadows of mountains before, but always in its winter glory. Spring is a more severe challenge in many ways. The snow pack is melting and the myriad waterways are unleashed from icy hibernation. As a result, March to May is generally a time of respite from human intrusion. Nevertheless, I was eager to see how early this trek could be accomplished. We set off to find out.
Our arrival at the trailhead was highly promising; although the summer access road was still gated shut, it was dry. Up we hiked with packs laden for five days and snowshoes strapped to the outside as evidence of serious intentions. Hours later we arrived at our first night’s accommodations; a deserted summer hostel not scheduled to open for another month.
Very early the next morning we set off on the trail alongside Edith Cavell mountain. Cavell was named after a British field nurse executed as a spy during WWI for assistance given to escaping soldiers. Her death was highly publicized and provided a great deal of motivation to the Allied cause. Within the hour we encountered what would remain our nemesis for the rest of the day; deep snow accumulations on the trail. We struggled to post-hole through for a while, and then donned the snowshoes only to encounter frequent dry and rocky spots. Snowshoes off, snowshoes on; it became rather tedious. Eventually we left the main trail for a less-used route that could save several kilometers.
Once across a narrow log bridge, the evidence of our increasing altitude became apparent – more snow. Still, the trail was intermittently visible for an hour or so until it completely disappeared under a white blanket. Out came the map and GPS. We were past half-way and had reached our “turn-around time”, which is the point one either commits to moving forward or going back. At the moment it was a sunny afternoon and difficult to contemplate future problems. Still, the risk of continuing was clear; a potential night under the stars. Each step in the now-isothermal snow resulted in a drop of several feet while the slush soaked through. We were in thick lodgepole forest where every direction looked the same. A compass can tell you which bearing to follow, but not the easiest route. We turned back.
The hostel came into sight just after 7pm. Dog-tired, we went through the usual routine of collecting water and firewood before supper could be prepared. Following the clean-up, we were soon in bed. The next morning greeted us with brilliant sunny skies and we turned around often for a last glance at the mountains while trudging down the road towards our car. Once home, with the map spread-out on the table, it was clear that we had our most challenging terrain ahead when we decided to turn back. In this instance, key to making the right choice was having my wife along. I can only shudder to think of the results had I been with my usual gang of testosterone-driven pals!